December 27, 2004

Castelli, Elizabeth
Intro to the New Testament

Please keep in mind that this review is more than 5 years old.

I have to disagree with some of these negative reviews here. I came into this class with almost no background in Christianity other than random knowledge picked up from literature, art history, and popular culture. This was pretty much the first time I had ever read the Bible, and not only did I understand what was going on, I also found myself more and more fascinated by a text I'd always thought was irrelevant to my intellectual life.
The previous poster seems to see Prof. Castelli's emphasis on historical context as some sort of a "debunking" project that works against theological interpretation. I, however, do not think her approach is nearly that reductive or simple. This culture is very much steeped in the intellectual traditions of different Christian theologies, so any reader will come to the Bible with countless unspoken assumptions about what the text is and how it is "supposed" to be interpreted. But a lot of these interpretive strategies are fairly modern inventions (like, for example, the Lutheran idea of "plain sense") and don't reflect how early Christian communities viewed these texts or how the writers of the New Testament interpreted the Hebrew Bible. I got the impression that Prof. Castelli's emphasis on historical context was not an attempt to discount the various theological readings that hold sway right now, but more of an attempt to get students to see that those readings are not the only possibilities that the text allows. And in a political context in which the Bible is so rhetorically influential, questioning the assumptions surrounding it is pretty important work.
In the end, this class felt like the most politically relevant class I've taken in a long time. Some lectures, admittedly, were more interesting than others, but the New Testament actually makes for surprisingly exciting and interesting reading, and I do feel like I now have a fairly solid background in New Testament interpretation and the roots of Christian theologies. Prof. Castelli was fabulous to talk to in her office hours and really a very nice, friendly, approachable professor. So look- if you are a Christian, this class may very well challenge views that you might have thought were a given. But challenging is not at all the same as seeking to discredit, and isn't intellectual challenge what college is supposed to be about?

Workload:

A lot of reading. Weekly response papers, two essays, and final exam.